When I went to Bible college in Dallas, Texas, one of my roommates took a city bus to an important job interview. Unfamiliar with the Metroplex, she rode around for over an hour without seeing her stop come up. Sensing something was wrong, she asked a lady sitting near her, how much longer it would be until the bus got to her desired address. With a look of pity, the lady shook her head and drawled, “Honey Chile, you be on da wrong bus!” My friend lost no time in asking the bus driver for directions and a bus-transfer and finally got on the right bus, happily landing the job.
In my last column, I began sharing a parable that Jesus told in Luke 15. A rebellious son finally realizes he is on the wrong bus. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”
Just as reflection is a prelude to repentance, repentance is a prerequisite for restoration. But what exactly is repentance? Is it merely a temporary sense of sorrow or some obligatory religious ritual?
For some of us, the word repentance evokes memories of tear-soaked tissues, soft strains of an organist playing “Just as I Am,” and a shaky shuffle down the aisle to an altar to get right with God. For others, images of penitent pilgrims crawling on bloodied hands and knees, or stoic self-flagellation may come to mind. Others, find the notion of sin and repentance archaic or down-right offensive, and are either amused or incensed at the thought of a Divine Being claiming any right to our allegiance or obedience.
Interestingly, in the original biblical languages, repentance requires neither somber music nor self-effacing gymnastics. In Hebrew, to repent means simply to return; particularly to God from Whom we all “like sheep” have strayed. In Greek, repentance means to change one’s mind or purpose. That’s easy. We do that every day, some of us, several times a day.
The wayward son realizes the error of his ways and repents! He acknowledges his sin and most importantly, he puts feet to his words and returns home seeking forgiveness and restoration, albeit as a lowly servant.
Up to this point, all those listening to Jesus’ story would have been nodding their heads in agreement. This was a well-known cautionary tale. Everyone knew the fearful ending; what happened to ungrateful, rebellious sons like this. So, Jesus’ next words blew their minds.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
We will finish unpacking this amazing parable next time, but for now, there is something every prodigal needs to know, and that is whether they have a home worth returning to. I cannot speak for your home or family, but I can assure you, your Heavenly Father is waiting and watching. Your return is deeply longed-for, and His welcome will blow your mind!